Many New York Yankee fans looked on wistfully when Paul Goldschmidt was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. When it was first hinted that Goldschmidt was on the trading block, the thought of him wearing pinstripes was an attractive one. When that deal did not happen, the reality set in that first base would be manned by either Luke Voit--last year's hero--or Greg Bird. Now the reality is setting in that only one of them will survive the cut to head north for the season as suggested by Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman. Voit was given the initial nudge because of what he did last year, but Bird is being touted (once again) for the kind of spring he is having. So which will it be?
From a fan's perspective, there is an emotional choice here. Luke Voit won a lot of hearts in the city with his magical run, his infectious smile and his Hulk-like super hero body. Greg Bird has been the perennial disappointment akin to the Nick Johnson days. A few fans might be sad to see Greg Bird go, but not a majority. Voit would be the fan favorite.
The thing nobody knows is if Luke Voit is the real deal. As someone who has lived through the Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer days, Voit's fall exploits feel reminiscent. Heck, even Greg Bird had a great first year at the age of 22. There is also the fact that the Yankees are a heavily right-handed batting team. Greg Bird gives them more balance. But balance with a 79 career OPS+ kind of loses its luster.
I wonder what the Las Vegas odds would be on which player will make the team. In the Deja Vu department, Greg Bird is having a really good spring. But so is Luke Voit. But what about projections? Marcels' Projections has Luke Voit with an .842 OPS. Most would take that in a lineup like the Yankees have. The same projections has Greg Bird just topping a .700 OPS, which wouldn't cut it at all. Over at Fangraphs.com, the five projections there have a low wRC+ for Voit at 115 and a high of 140. Greg Bird has wRC+ projections that are at 100 for a low and 115 for a high. I think we have seen that projections are very much more in favor of Voit over Bird.
It would be a bit easier if one of them was superior with the glove. The hard truth is that both are terrible fielding first basemen. Fangraphs assigned Bird with a -3.4 runs on defense while Voit did worse at -3.7. It seems like their range is below standard in both cases and neither is very good at scooping balls out of the dirt. Voit seems a lot like Ron Bloomberg at first base which is why Bloomberg is the perennial trivia answer as to which player recorded the first hit with the DH rule.
Paul Goldschmidt's range makes him look like a gazelle in comparison to either choice for the Yankees. Alas...
It is easy to see why the Yankees are loathe to give up on Greg Bird. He is two years younger than Voit and is only 26. Bird has far superior MiLB numbers. Voit's were not terrible, but his career MiLB OPS of .824 is some 50+ points lower than Bird's. But does that mean anything? It all comes down to how you perform once you get the chance. Bird simply has not been able to lift off.
Both players have very similar walk and strikeout rates. Luke Voit hit the ball hard 47% of the time last year. Greg Bird was at 40%. Voit's weak contact was only 9% while Bird's was over 13%. Greg Bird has always been over 13% in that area.
Luke Voit seems to have the edge as a fan favorite, better projections, more hard hit balls and less weak hit ones and he has already become a legend. But Bird is home grown and younger. The Yankees have invested much more into his career. And if Bird is the one to get sent down, does that become a glass ceiling kind of thing? Is it worth even keeping him in the minors at that point?
Without taking a poll, it would be hard to imagine the fans wanting anyone but Luke Voit at first base. That would be my preference as well. But the fans do not always get what they want which is why Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are not Yankees. My gut feels kind of sick inside, but it is telling me that Greg Bird will be the choice.